Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 2 No. 1, January 2002, pp. 50–87.
© Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Henry Bernstein and Terence J. Byres 2002.
The Question of Market Dependence
ELLEN MEIKSINS WOOD
Capitalism is a system of social-property relations in which survival andsocialreproduction are dependent on the market; a system that is, therefore, drivenby the imperatives of competition and a relentless drive to improve the forces of production. This article explores the nature of that market dependence and the speciﬁc historical conditions in which it emerged. In debate with Robert Brenner’s recent article in this journal (vol. 1, no. 2) about the early develop-ment of capitalism in the Low Countries, it is suggested that, while theDutchRepublic was a highly developed commercial society, it seems to have lacked the speciﬁc conditions that made market dependence a basic propertyrelation,as it was in early modern English agrarian capitalism. The differencesbetweenDutch and English patterns of economic development reﬂect somefundamentaldifferences between commercial and capitalist societies.Keywords
capitalism, market, commerce, Dutch Republic, EnglandIn a recent issue of this journal, Robert Brenner (2001) made a powerful case forthe early development of capitalism in parts of the Low Countries. Building onhis groundbreaking work on England, he argued that, for different reasons andindifferent ways, agricultural producers in the maritime Northern Netherlandsweresubjected to economic imperatives that impelled their development in a capitalistdirection. The argument has major implications for our understanding of capital-ism in general, and that is the basis on which I want to respond to it here. If, asBrenner has argued, the
of capitalism is the market dependenceof economic actors, much depends on exactly what market dependence means.
†Robert Brenner will respond to the following articles in a forthcoming issue of the journal.Ellen Meiksins Wood, Department of Political Science, York University, 4700 Keele Street,Toronto,Canada, M3J 1PR. e-mail: email@example.comI want to thank George Comninel for his, as usual, extremely helpful comments and suggestions,and for innumerable fruitful discussions about these and related issues. Thanks also to Terry Byresforhis very useful and thought-provoking observations. As always, I am also grateful to Neal Wood, forhis comments and encouragement. But I owe special thanks to Bob Brenner, with whom I have beendiscussing this essay from the start. The ﬁnal product is the result of an ongoing debate between us,after he read the original draft, and he intends to respond to it in print. Our objective is to conductnot the customary academic slanging match, but a constructive conversation between basically like-minded friends, in the hope of clarifying things for ourselves and anyone else who might beinterested.